PCB Prototyping Evolves with New Wave of Electronics Printers


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A new wave of printers targeting printed circuit boards (PCBs) are enabling rapid, local prototyping while protecting company IP, finds IDTechEx Research.  

The established $80bn PCB market is under increasing strain to produce more customized circuit boards more quickly, driven by the proliferation of choices of consumer electronics devices, many only being sold for short periods of time until being bettered.   The current status quo of making prototypes in Asia and then shipping them to the product developer not only typically takes one to three weeks but can put intellectual property at risk, at a time when product developers seek both time-to-market and product design as key differentiators in a sector where branded devices are sometimes copied and commoditized before they have even been launched.  

Unlike the name suggests, PCBs are not made by printing, but rather etching. While this process will continue to dominate the electronics manufacturing business, it uses chemicals that are increasingly being restricted, including in China.   IDTechEx Research has discovered that this has led to a new category of printers that print conductive ink and other materials to enable in-house, low cost, rapid prototyping and development work.  

According to research conducted for the report From 2D to 3D Printed Electronics 2015-2025 the opportunity is being explored mainly by start-up companies rather than large equipment providers. Of those involved, 45% are targeting the low cost printer opportunity (under $3,500 per printer) focusing towards the educational and hobbyist markets.  

The rest are focussing on the industrial market, targeting up to 6 circuit layers, which accounts for 43% of all PCBs produced.   IDTechEx Research finds that both groups have to contend with the higher resistivity of the ink, although the increasing supply of nanoparticle inks will help to close the performance gap with etched traces.  

This will culminate in at least $130m of specialist equipment sales in 2020 and thereafter scale rapidly as not only more materials become available but also ability to print on everything from flexible substrates to 3D surfaces unleashes current design constraints. The new wave of printed electronics manufacturing will enable new product designs.   For more information see the new report from IDTechEx From 2D to 3D Printed Electronics 2015-2025. The IDTechEx Show! on November 18-19 in Santa Clara covering Printed Electronics and 3D printing will showcase the solutions.

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